Before we dive in, let me define what minimalism and zero waste living are.
Minimalism. While there isn’t a specific definition about minimalism in terms of living like a minimalist, the general idea is to live with less (and I’m not just talking about physical clutter here).
Zero waste. The definition of zero waste is a little more in depth:
“Zero Waste: The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.” (source)
Based on these two definitions, it doesn’t appear that minimalism and zero waste living are similar at all.
But after being on a minimalism journey for almost four years, and a zero waste journey for 1.5 years, I can tell you that these lifestyles are much more similar than not.
Let’s start with the biggest similarity: reducing.
When you’re aiming to live a minimalist lifestyle, the way to get there is to lessen the number of things – physical, mental, environmental, etc. that don’t bring any meaning to your life.
Similarly, when you’re aiming to live a more waste-free lifestyle, adopting a reduction mindset is a great way to limit the waste you produce.
Both minimalist and low/zero waste lifestyles benefits from a reduction in consuming, using what you have, and living a simpler life.
If you look at the zero waste hierarchy above, you’ll see that refuse and reduce are at the top which falls in line with what I said above.
And before we get into it – let me tell you that this mindset WORKS. How do I know? Because I’ve lived it.
Since switching to a more minimalist and waste free lifestyle, my family and I have gotten rid of over 140 large boxes of clutter, sold countless more, and reduced our waste by over 40lbs A WEEK.
This. Mindset. Works!
Now – along with the mindset of refusing and reducing, here are 11 additional ways minimalism and zero waste compliment each other.
Buy higher quality items so they last longer and you can own less
I know, I just talked about refusing and reducing your consumerism habits. However, the reality is that we all need to buy stuff at some point. And when that time comes, if you’re able, spend a little more and get a product that is going to last you a while. You know that old say ‘you get what you pay for?’ Well, it’s true.
Another benefit to buying something that is going to last you longer is that you can own less. An example for me is a winter coat. I live in Minnesota where it is some-type of winter six months out of the year. I could buy an inexpensive coat, but the chances that it will get damaged or lose the insulation within the first year or two is pretty high. If that happens, I either have to buy ANOTHER coat, or stock up on other layers in order to stay warm.
Instead, I splurge on a winter coat that is going to last. I often pick companies that are environmentally friendly, and have a good warranty program or offer free repairs. The last winter coat I had I wore for almost 10 years. The one I have now I expect to last the same amount of time.
I know that being able to splurge on higher quality items is a privilege, and that may not always be an option. If that is the case, I would highly recommend looking secondhand. Another great thing about higher quality items is that they often can get passed on to multiple people before eventually wearing out.
Search in places like your local thrift shop (my husband has found top of the line camping equipment for 80% of the cost – no joke), Facebook Marketplace, Freecycle.org, Nextdoor, Craigslist, OfferUP, or BuyNothing Group. Patagonia and REI also have secondhand sites.
Shopping secondhand is a great way to reduce waste while also consuming. Just remember to limit what you bring in to keep your home clutter free!
Use What You Have
One of the most sustainable things you can do (and budget friendly) is to use what you already have. I give some specific examples below, but get creative in this! Before you make a purchase, look around your house and see if there is another item you can use instead. By doing this, you are not contributing to the waste stream or using excess resources, because you are using/consuming something that is already in existence.
This tip can also apply to minimalist living, because you are not bringing in more clutter. AND, if you have an item that you can use for another purpose, I’m going to guess it wasn’t all that important in the current state anyway.
Busting clutter and waste (and saving money) all around!
Which leads me to…
Less Shopping in General
I’ll say it again – the most sustainable item is the one you don’t buy/consume. Funny enough, this also applies to a minimalist lifestyle in terms of reducing clutter.
Remember that companies want you to buy. They want you to spend money. They purposefully make things inexpensive so that you have to replace them after a short amount of time. And we have been conditioned to rush out and buy instead of using what we have, repairing, or even just simply going without.
Things were not always this way, and they don’t have to be today.
Next time you think you need to purchase something, take a step back. Some people have a rule that they wait 24 hours. Some people wait a week. Some longer.
Pick a length of time that works for you.
If you’re shopping online, add the item to your cart and come back to it later.
Chances are (and what I have found), is that after a certain length of time, you no longer feel the need to purchase the item.
One final thing – the minimalist and waste friendly swaps I’m going to talk about below have an awesome benefit. Less time shopping all around.
Paper towels, napkins, tampons, tin foil, plastic snack bags – all of this requires time and resources to shop. You gotta make the list, head out to the store, buy the items, load them into your car, unload them into your house, put them away, etc. Not to mention the space they take up and the money they cost and the waste they produce.
But this is your time. YOUR TIME! YOUR ENERGY! I’M WRITING IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE I AM SERIOUSLY SO PASSIONATE ABOUT THIS!
Yes, maybe you use Amazon subscribe and save, or Target’s To-Go option, but it is still extra time and money.
And I don’t know about you, but I didn’t love spending my time shopping for all the stuff.
By implementing the reduce and reuse mindset, and making the switches below, I have been able to get my grocery shopping down to once every two weeks. And to a 25 minute run each time. Give or take the 15 minute it takes me to bag and unload.
Menstrual cup/cloth pads/period panties
Ladies, I know that time of the month can already be a pain (sometimes literally). I used to have a bathroom cupboard full of pads, pantyliners, and three or four different types of tampons. I’d have a stash on tampons and pads at work, in my work bag, my purse, and when my son was smaller, in the diaper bag.
Talk about clutter.
Talk about waste.
Did you know the average woman spends $150-$300 a year on period supplies (source)? If you price that out to 40 years, that’s $6,000 – $12,000 in a lifetime. That’s an insane amount of money.
Additionally, “the average woman uses roughly 11,000 tampons in her lifetime. The time it takes for a tampon or pad to degrade in a landfill is centuries longer than the lifespan of the woman who used it, particularly when wrapped in a plastic wrapper or bag.” (source)
I started looking into more sustainable and less-cluttered options for my period. Some of the options I found were:
- Menstrual cups
- Period panties
- Cloth pads
Cups: For menstrual cups, I started with the site Put a Cup In It. Put a Cup In It is kind of the one stop shop for menstrual cup information – especially if you’re a beginner. There is a quiz you can take that will recommend different cups based on your lifestyle, charts comparing different qualities of a ton of different cups, coupon codes for certain cup sites, videos about different cups and how to insert, and more.
There is also a Put a Cup In It Facebook Community which is super helpful for questions and just learning from others.
There is a learning curve with menstrual cups, but once you get passed that, they are amazing. One of my favorite things is that you can leave them in for 12 hours instead of eight with tampons. This has been a game changer for me – especially for sleeping!
They can also have a bit of a sticker shock compared to pads and tampons, but after looking at the statistics above, know that they pay for themselves super quick. There is a swap group that you can look for used ones (you can easily sterilize the cups by boiling them) often for a cheaper price.
I’ll admit that I am still on the search for my ‘perfect cup’, but I am working on it. Cups are starting to become more mainstream – places like Target, Walgreens, Walmart, and CVS have started selling them – so prepare to start hearing/seeing more of them!
Cloth pads: The only other reusable option I’ve tried is cloth pads and pantyliners, but I LOVE them. You can make your own or purchase them. I found mine on Etsy.
Now, instead of a couple of boxes of liners/pads, I just have one pad and one liner (I use them mostly for backup so don’t need a lot). When they get dirty, I rinse them in cold water and then throw them in the washer. Hang to dry and that is it. Super easy!
Period Panties: For period panties, there are a bunch of different brands to try out. I am not super familiar with these, but a EcoAsia or Pinterest search should bring up some reviews and recommendations.
Beeswax wraps, cloth covers, and reusable bags, oh my! (for ziploc bags, seran wrap, tin foil)
Back before my zero waste days, I had a drawer and half a cabinet filled with ziploc bags (sandwich and gallon sized), tin foil, parchment paper, saran wrap, and more. Once I started being mindful about my family’s waste, and I used up all the disposable products, I realized I could not only save money and waste, but also save on space by choosing reusable options.
Now, I only have one small drawer for these types of products. Plus – bonus – I love the reusable products so much more than their disposable counterparts.
Here are the switches I made:
Beeswax wraps: You can buy these pre-made or make your own (which I am working on doing). If you would prefer a vegan option, they have those as well. They work by placing the wrap over your container, and then let the wax warm from your hands. It creates a freshness seal that works SUPER well (seriously, I’ve had avocados last 5-7 days in a beeswax wrap). Beeswax wraps do require a little bit of care – only wash them in cool, soapy water, and you may have to add a little wax on after a couple of years. But the small amount of maintenance is SO worth it!
Snack bags: My family has two reusable snack bags that are great. They work the same way as a regular plastic ziploc ones and you can easily rinse out with soapy water and dry. My favorite ones have come from this local Etsy shop (parents – she’s got a Daniel Tiger one), but you can also find them in other zero waste stores, or find silicone ones on places like Amazon.
For other snacks, we also use reusable containers that we already have on hand and that can be used for other thing as well (that is the important piece because having multi use products saves money, space/clutter, and waste). Since switching, I have never once wished we had disposables.
One more thing – you don’t have to buy something new, either. You can use what you already have on hand or make your own!
Tin foil, parchment paper, etc: To be honest, I don’t really have a swap for these – except to say that we don’t use them. Yes, tin foil (which is aluminum) can be recycled and parchment paper can be composted, but we decided to do a trial and see if we could go without, and you know what? We can. We really don’t miss them and I haven’t found the cleaning or time saved to be any more or less. Instead, we are saving money, saving space/clutter, and saving waste!
Yep – I’m coming for your paper towels. Kidding, of course.
Paper towels was the first switch my family and I made after going zero waste. We purchased this roll of bamboo towels which were only supposed to last (according to the company) six months. However, we have been using them for almost two years now and they are still going strong. This was a swap I was most concerned about – I had an almost 2-year-old at the time, but it turned out to be one of the easiests!
The cost of the bamboo towels is $9. The cost of a pack of paper towels averages around $15. Just by buying ONE ROLL of the bamboo towels, I was already saving money, not to mention a ton of space! I used to have one shelf designated for paper towel rolls, and now I don’t have to do that.
I will caveat that I do keep one lonely roll of actual paper towels on hand for the really nasty messes that I don’t really want going through my washing machine. But that roll can easily last me an entire year.
One more thing regarding paper towels – you don’t need to buy anything new. If you have an old blanket, shirts, towels, etc., you can use those first!
Here are some other paper items my family gave up for reusables:
Tissues: Tissues was one that I was on board with right away, but that my partner wasn’t as keen on. However, I decided to still try using them for myself and my son, and I LOVE them (I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record but seriously). I love that I always have some on hand – especially when a cold or allergies strikes. I can easily just wash them if I need more, so I don’t have to go out to the store or beg my partner to do it. Oh, and they’re waaay easier on the ole nose than their paper counterparts.
Yes – it may seem kind of gross at first – that’s because we’re conditioned to think that. But guess what. People have been doing this for DECADES. This concept (along with most in this post) are not new. People have been doing it out of necessity or because they see the benefits. Even my reluctant husband finally jumped on board.
For my family’s tissues, I cut up an old shirt and a couple of my son’s old receiving blankets (soft flannel -yes!). Easy, budget-friendly, and minimalist/waste friendly (you’re using what you have). I keep a decorative bowl filled in our living room upstairs and downstairs. That’s it!
However, you can purchase some premade like these bird tissue book ones.
Napkins: Napkins were another easy paper switch. I purchased some of mine locally at a craft fair, but you can use materials at home, find them in zero waste shops, or find them in many stores. A question that often comes up when talking about cloth napkins is – what about guests? We still have paper napkins that we bought pre-zero waste, so we use those. However, I know some people have a separate set just for guests which is what my family and I will do.
One final thing – another question I often get asked about making the switch to cloth reusables is:
‘How much extra laundry do you do?’
And my response is always – none. I literally don’t do any extra. The items are so small they don’t take up that much space, so I can just add them in to a regular load.
The napkins and tissues probably don’t save that much space to be honest – however, I was never really one to ‘stock up’ on these two particular items. If you do, it may be different. However, I am definitely saving money and waste!
When it comes to beauty and toiletry products, that could be a whole post in itself, so I’m not going to dive into a lot of detail here. That being said, there are a couple of things I do to keep these items waste/minimalist friendly.
Go without: Yep. I’ve cut back on my ‘beauty routine’ by a lot. I wear minimal to no makeup, stopped using conditioner all together (and I have thick, somewhat wavy/somewhat straight hair), and am still in the process of using up all my shampoo.
If you would have asked me a couple of years ago whether I thought I could go without condition, I would have told you that you were crazy. But I don’t miss it. And my hair adjusted just fine without it.
While going without certain products may not be for everyone, I challenge you to find one that you can try going without for a couple of months. You can always go back if you find you really need it.
DIY: There are TONS of DIY makeup and toiletry recipes on Pinterest. The great (and minimalist/zero waste friendly part – well, one of them) is that a lot of these recipes use items you’d find already in your home.
Coconut oil, spices (for color), baking soda, sugar, vinegar, and more are all commonly used. This can majorly help cut down on clutter!
As I mentioned above, I personally opt to go without certain products, but one exception is I will occasionally do a apple cider vinegar/water rinse in my hair. Easy enough since I regularly use/cook with ACV!
The only other exception is that I make my own dry shampoo out of cornstarch and cocoa powder. Again, stuff I already have on hand and in this case, super budget friendly!
I hesitated to even put this category in the post because I am a firm believer that medical stuff is necessary for for our health, and that trumps any waste/minimalist lifestyles.
However, one thing I have found that has replaced a handful of first aid items is an aloe vera plant.
I’m going to confess something here – I have owned an aloe vera plant for a few years, but only just recently started actually using the aloe.
So what types of things do I use it for?
- Burns (including sun burns)
- Face mask
Of course, for more serious issues, I also have medicated gels to use if needed.
That being said, I am obsessed with using my aloe vera now. One plant (that I already enjoy on it’s own and that is super easy to grow by the way), can replace these four items! And not only that, but actually works?
I look at that, and see a ton of money being saved, waste being reduced, and space/clutter being opened up. And if I can do anything to get my medicine cabinet to look halfway uncluttered, I am a happy girl.
Food Storage Containers
When it comes to food storage containers, what can you do to try and limit your waste and clutter? The first thing is to use what you have, and the second is focus on items that can be used for multiple purposes.
For example, I buy pre-made spaghetti sauce. Yes, I know I can make my own. But I like to have a couple jars on hand for a super quick and easy dinner. The great thing is that the glass jars they come in are awesome for reusing. I use them for food storage, snack storage, packing food on a trip, freezing, storing salad dressings and/or homemade stock in, and packing my lunch for work.
Cheap. Waste friendly (using what I already have). Minimalist friendly (multi-use).
If jars aren’t your thing, you don’t have to use them. Other options may include takeout containers. Yogurt tubs. Etc.
If you’re looking to buy food storage containers, I would highly recommend looking secondhand. You can find some great options for a fraction of the price of new and save on waste by buying something already in existence.
Reduce food waste
There is my favorite ‘r’ word again – reduce. I am alllll about reducing food waste, because it is a huge problem. I’ve talked about food waste a lot, but as a refresher, here are just two reasons why it is bad:
- 40% of all food ends up in the landfill. That is a giant waste of money and resources. Not to mention there are food insecure people in your own neighborhood.
- Food that ends up in the landfill does not compost or break down in a way that most people think it does (and I was one of those people). The food breaks down, but does so slowly because of a lack of oxygen. As it breaks down, it releases methane gas – a very powerful and potent greenhouse gas.
40% of all our food slowly rotting in a landfill devoid of oxygen producing methane gas contributing to climate change.
So what can you do?
I love meal planning in order to save money and reduce food waste. I have an entire post on that which you can find here. Meal planning also prevents me from just randomly buying things at the store which I don’t need and may forget about thus going bad.
Another thing you can do is to use what you already have before buying more.
I like to keep a running list of things in my freezer, so that when it comes time to meal plan, I can reference the list and make sure to use up what we already have on hand.
I also take a peek into my food cupboards and do the same.
This not only helps save money and prevents waste, it prevents your cupboards/fridge/freezer/whatever from getting so full that things get pushed to the back and forgotten about and becoming a cluttered mess. Minimalism at its finest.
Utilize Local Resources
Your local community resources may help you live a low waste/minimalist lifestyle. How so?
Look at places like the library. You can check out things like books, movies, series, audiobooks, CDs, and more for free, and return them once you’re done. Some libraries even have games and puzzles to check out.
I am super fortunate to have a book library, toy library (click here to see if there is one in your area), art library, and tool library in my area. Even if you don’t have one or all of these in your area, you can start your own with your friends/family/neighborhood/etc.
For information on how to start your own toy swap between friends, check out this post with more information.
You could start a tool swap with your family or even your neighbors. Or a clothing swap with your friends.
All of these types of resources are a great way to save money, reduce waste (because you’re already using items that are in existence), AND, a great way to reduce clutter because you don’t actually own any of these items! Well, except in the clothing swap. But at least you’re getting rid of clothes to get some!
I have a huge guide on zero waste and minimalist gift giving (which you can find here), so I’m not going to dive in deeply here.
Basically, when it comes to gifts, consumables, experiences, and time are your friends. How many times do you hear from people “oh, I don’t need anything – I have so much junk already”.
What do people really want? They want time with you. They want to experience something with you. And I don’t know many people who would turn down a gift of food or drink.
We have over consumed ourselves to the point where people don’t need or want any more ‘stuff’. Since you’re here reading this, I’m going to guess you are in a similar boat. So apply the idea of reduce and reuse to your gift giving, and I can guarantee your recipient will be happy as can be*.
*No formal guarantee will be issued. But I am 99.9% sure.
Bonus: zero waste and minimalism and anxiety
Reducing physical clutter and other ‘things’ can provide an entire host of mental health benefits- like managing anxiety. Yes, I’m serious!
Check out my post on how zero waste living and minimalism have helped me manage my anxiety, and how these lifestyle changes can help you too.
Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive. It was a means to show that the two lifestyles often intersect, when at first glance it may seem they are totally different.
In what ways do you find minimalism and zero waste living intersect?
I’d love to hear about it!